Leonarda Cianciulli of Correggio, Italy, became well-known throughout the town for her homemade soaps and teacakes in 1939 and 1940. But none of the houseguests of this sweet, middle-aged woman were aware of her secret ingredient: the remains of the women she’d murdered.’
Cianciulli was born in the town of Montella. Leonarda attempted suicide twice as a young girl. Her parents opposed her marriage to Raffaele Pansardi, a registry office clerk, because they expected her to marry another man. Leonarda claimed that her mother cursed them on this particular occasion. The couple settled in Lariano, Alta Irpinia. After their home was destroyed by an earthquake in 1930, they relocated once more, this time to Correggio, where Leonarda opened a small shop and became well-known as a nice, gentle woman, a devoted mother, and a good neighbor.
Cianciulli had seventeen pregnancies during her marriage, but three of the children died due to miscarriage, and ten more died as children. As a result, she was fiercely protective of the four surviving children. Her fears were fueled by a warning she had received from a fortune teller some time before, who said she would marry and have children, but that all of the children would die. Cianciulli allegedly also paid a visit to another Gypsy who practiced palm reading and told her, “In your right hand, I see prison, in your left, a criminal asylum.” Cianciulli was a superstitious woman who appears to have taken these warnings very seriously.
Cianciulli learned in 1939 that her eldest son, Giuseppe, would be joining the Italian army in preparation for World War II. Giuseppe was her favorite child, and she would do anything to protect him. She came to the conclusion that human sacrifices were required for his safety. Three middle-aged women, all neighbors, became her victims. According to some sources, Cianciulli was a fortune teller herself, and these women all came to her for advice; others simply state that they were her friends seeking advice. Cianciulli began to plan the deaths of the three women for whatever reason.
Discovery and trial
Cacioppo’s sister-in-law, who had last seen her entering Cianciulli’s house, became suspicious of her sudden disappearance. She reported her concerns to the superintendent of police in Reggio Emilia, who launched an investigation and arrested Cianciulli shortly afterwards. Cianciulli immediately confessed to the murders, detailing her actions in great detail.
In 1946, Cianciulli was tried for murder in Reggio Emilia. She refused to apologize, even going so far as to correct the official account while on the stand:
Poetess Leonarda gripped the witness stand rail with unusually delicate hands last week during her trial in Reggio Emilia and calmly corrected the prosecutor on certain details. “I gave the copper ladle, which I used to skim the fat off the kettles, to my country, which was so desperately in need of metal during the last days of the war,” she concluded, her deep-set dark eyes gleaming with a wild inner pride.
She was found guilty of her crimes and sentenced to thirty years in prison plus three years in a mental institution.
Cianciulli died of cerebral apoplexy on October 15, 1970, in the Pozzuoli women’s criminal asylum. A number of artifacts from the case are on display at the Criminological Museum in Rome, including the pot in which the victims were boiled.